Author: Somaiyah Hafeez
It wasn’t an easy decision to make. A couple of years after graduating with a degree in economics, Fayaz Baloch, 30, with encouragement from his wife, decided to go back to university to pursue his true calling — painting. This January, Baloch graduated from the National Arts of College (NCA), Lahore, with a degree in fine arts.
The journey thus far hasn’t been easy for Baloch, who initially studied economics from the National University of Modern Languages even though his passion for the arts dates back to his early childhood. After all these years, Baloch still remembers his art teacher from nursery school, Miss Aseefa, who one day told the students to draw an apple.
“The next day when I showed her my drawing, she couldn’t believe it was drawn by me,” recalls Baloch. “She said, ‘You had to make this on your own,’ and asked me to draw it on the board to confirm that I had actually drawn it. When I did, she hugged me and asked me to continue my artwork.”
This early encouragement furthered Baloch’s interest in art. He kept painting and drawing, dabbled in different art forms, used a mixture of paints, watercolours and oil paints, thus exploring the world of colours and various art mediums from an early age.
Born in Quetta, Balochistan, Baloch always derived inspiration for his work from nature, because that is where he thought he could seek answers to the questions which he was intrigued by.
At NCA, Baloch majored in miniature painting. “I studied Indo-Persian miniature painting, which draws its inspiration from both the Mughal school of thought as well as the Persian school of thought,” he says. “They might not be called miniature because of the size but because these paintings contain a story told through fine detail.”
Miniature paintings from the Mughal era would always remind Baloch of Balochistan because of the landscape and scenery depicted by them. Baloch’s thesis is titled, Resurrection and he worked on it for a year, travelling to various locations in Balochistan, documenting the areas and seeking inspiration.
“During the trip, I still didn’t know what the visuals of my thesis would be,” Baloch confesses. “Nothing was decided, but I trusted my process and travelled to places like Dera Bugti and Pir Koh which were facing a drought. I went to Bolan, Nasirabad and Hingol National Park. I took around 2,000 pictures for documentation. When I started looking at the pictures, I noticed some patterns. There were lots of animals and skeletons in the landscape. I continued painting and creating the visuals around me.”
From his travels, Baloch brought with him soil samples, rocks and flowers from various places in Balochistan. After attending a workshop by his professor Aqib Suri, Baloch extracted pigments from the samples, which he then used in his thesis work. All the dyes and pigments used for his work have been extracted by him.
“In my thesis work, I try to depict soil, decomposition, weather and the visual identity of living remains and their relationship with one another,” he narrates as he discusses his work. “Gloomy and desolate landscapes with dried bones are the dominant imagery throughout.
“Landscapes are very personal to me,” he adds, “as I come from a region whose geography is rough and, as a result, a lot of life is lost annually. For me, such deaths, much like all deaths, are engaged in a cyclic process of eternal return. Death is not the ending point for any living thing. A living being dies and turns into dust and this soil then nourishes another form of life.”
Although Baloch’s affinity with arts always remained, things changed when he started attending Cadet College, Mastung, where he found himself in a different world altogether — one of strict and almost stifling discipline that might not leave much room for an artist to bloom. Still, he continued taking part in arts competitions and was continually ranked at the top at his college’s fine arts club.
During an all-Pakistan trip arranged by his college, the young artist visited NCA in Lahore. That day his friends told him “Fayaz, this is your place”, but he shrugged off the thought, believing he might “die of hunger” if he took up art as his vocation.
“I didn’t have enough exposure at that time,” confesses Baloch when asked about the reason behind his thought process. “Moreover, the society I lived in did not see arts as a viable career. The main reason, I believe, was Cadet College, where we were mostly encouraged to join the armed forces or to become a civil servant or a doctor or engineer. I had internalised the lesson that other professions do not have the same worth.”
Baloch continued his studies at Cadet College till grade 12. Governed by societal expectations and stereotypes, Baloch decided to major in economics and finance. With his heart gravitating towards the arts, Baloch didn’t miss any opportunities to showcase his talent.
“I took part in competitions at the university level,” Baloch recounted. “One of my paintings for one such competition featured a veiled woman sitting on the footpath with a morsel of bread in her hand, which she is feeding to her child. I titled it When the world is only a piece of bread. This painting not only won me accolades but was also featured in a local newspaper.”
Soon after this, Baloch found himself at a dark juncture, as he began to battle insomnia, depression and suicidal thoughts.
“I felt all alone and then I realised that I was the only one who had to take myself out of this pit. I was mentally exhausted and my thoughts weren’t in my control,” says Baloch. “So, I started spending my time reading, painting and playing chess. I would force myself to indulge in these activities. I took a semester off and travelled, but what provided me with solace throughout this period was painting. I would paint a lot, and the more I painted the more my curiosity increased.”
Baloch continued his studies and graduated from the National University of Modern Languages (NUML). In the meantime, he got married and moved back to Balochistan, where he set up a studio-cum-library for himself at his home, where he would paint all the time. This is when his wife told him to pursue his passion.
When Baloch joined the NCA, he focused all his energy on his art. He considers his time at NCA as “being on a vacation from real life.”
“When I left my career in human resources management to pursue arts as a student again, I didn’t know whether I would succeed or make any money,” he reveals. “But that didn’t even matter, because after being lost for so long, I had finally found my place.
“Ultimately, no matter which field you pursue, if it is what you want to do, then you will grow. Every person has a different space and one can only know that by exploring themselves.”
For Baloch, art changed his monochrome life by adding colour to it.
The author is a freelance feature writer. She tweets @sommulbaloch
Published in Dawn, EOS, February 12th, 2023